Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fad Words

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fad Words

Article excerpt

The woman had a Ph.D. in one of those frothy social sciences, the sort that serve as breeding grounds for jargon and gobbledygook. She paced between overhead projector and screen, lecturing on what she called "learning styles."

I can't remember much about learning styles, which apparently had nothing to do with study, practice or hard work. But I do remember that she urged us to keep a journal. Or, I should say, she urged us to "journal."

"Do you journal?" she asked. "I journal almost every day. I've been journaling for years now."

"Journaling! " Good Lord. I'd hate to see this woman's diary. I can imagine it only as a graveyard of good English, a place where serious thinking disappears under mounds of pretense, superficiality and faddishness.

Not that she's alone .... Fad words and phrases sweep through newsrooms with the regularity of the tides. We man, not "journal," but we are quick to embrace phrases such as "no-brainer," which spread with a rapidity that seemed to be proof of its content.

It happened sometime in 1994, when the word "simple" simply disappeared from the newsroom. Everything self-evident became a "no-brainer." In the process, we lost not only "simple" and self-evident," but also obvious," "logical "clear," "apparent," "evident" and "straightforward

Not that no-brainer" didn't originally have some value as a fresh figure of speech. The wretch who coined it created a term with obvious appeal.

The 500th was merely a hack, however, someone who callously dismissed George Orwell's first rule of writing: "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print."

Which is not to say that we should resist any change in the language. As even the flintiest of word purists concede, the beauty of English is its infinite capacity to embrace a growing and changing culture.

Computer technology has enriched English with dozens of new terms. Hardly anybody now blanches at "access" as a verb. And the idea of surfing the Net" has a sense of freewheeling panache that would be hard to duplicate. Other technologies contribute their own rich neologisms. "Boort box." "Jet ski.""Frisbee.' "Hovercraft."

Theodore M. Bernstein suggested a practical test for separating word wheat from chaff. "We should apply the test of convenience," he said. "Does the word fill a real need? If it does, let's give it a franchise."

Fad words never fill real needs. Take "venue," the fad word of the decade. …

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